"Bituminous electrical backing board" aka the elephant in the room

"Bituminous electrical backing board" aka the elephant in the room

If you are a sparky in Australia, please hear/read me out

Depending on where in Australia you're working as a sparky/meter tech or general tradie, you'll likely encounter this product. It was commonly used pre-1990 to mount fuses, meters etc.

Anyone that has worked with it knows the smell and look of it well.

Their may or may not be markings on the rear of the bituminous backing panel, some of the markings may include "Ausbestos" and "Zelemite" among others.

These panels contain 2 types of asbestos fibres 


Chrysotile (this is the most common type of asbestos in commercial settings)

You may hear the term friable and non-friable referred to with regards to this panel, and due to these panels being non-friable at manufacturing stage, 20+ years later we are still deeming these panels as "non-friable" slapping a mask/sticker on and getting stuck in.

The fact is that some of these panels were drilled when they were installed, and are continuing to be being drilled and cut as tradies dive into rewiring, repairing, upgrading switchboards including installing smart metering. 

Here's the part that should make every tradie working on or near these panels take pause, the chrysotile asbestos fact sheet found here paints some sobering facts (the fact sheet even has these parts highlighted incase you aren't 100% sure)

Chrysotile can not be used safely or responsibly, so masking up, shaving cream before drilling, wiping down your tools DOESN'T MAKE YOU SAFE. Furthermore the global research community has literally done a mic-drop on further research to confirm chrysotile's danger, it isn't even in debate this shit is very bad for you 

Further, their is NO SAFE THRESHOLD or Minimum exposure level to prevent adverse health effects. 

Lastly, "Workplaces can put measures in place that can minimise exposure risk, using a hierarchy of controls, but these will not prevent exposure completely unless the asbestos (or the hazard) is eliminated."

Translation: you are being exposed to asbestos regularly if you are working in these switchboards. 

I have heard plenty of fairytales and wishful thinking we tell ourselves to just "get the job done" including:

  • the biggest of all - wearing a mask will keep you safe
  • wipe down your tools and "decontaminate" the board with a wet wipe
  • drilling it is fine, just need some shaving cream (does the material not become friable at this point?....)
  • having a seperate asbestos kit will somehow again avoid exposure, as your covered in head to toe in 50 year old switchboard dust

 All the while we wonder what consequences we and the young people in this industry will see in 20-30 years from now.  

I would love to hear your thoughts, please comment below or contact me at 





Asbestos awareness - bituminous electrical backing board

Chrysotile Asbestos Fact Sheet - asbestossafety.gov.au

What is friable and non-friable asbestos?



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